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as State organizations remained in the Union, while their populations divided.
Constitutional logic, argumentation, distinctions between holding the national property and invasion, all vanished in the fierce breath of war. Between union and disunion, argument was exhausted, and the issue was to be tried out by force. In a day a great peaceful people resolved itself into two hostile armies.
THE CIVIL WAR
At the outbreak of war, what the Northerner saw confronting him was an organized attempt to overthrow the government and break up the nation in the interest of slavery. This as the essential fact took form in the circle of fire let loose on a beleaguered fort, and the Stars and Stripes lowered before an overwhelming force. Close following came the menace against the national capital, for Washington was believed to be in imminent peril. A Massachusetts regiment marching to its relief was assailed by the populace of Baltimore; communication was cut; and the city which was the centre and symbol of the national life seemed stretching her hands in appeal to the country's faithful sons. To the conscience, the heart, the imagination of the North, it was a war of national self-defense, a holy war.
What the Southerner saw was an attempt to crush by force a legitimate exercise of the right of sovereign States to an independent existence. The typical Southerner, whether he had thought Secession expedient or not, believed that each State was the rightful judge of its own course, that the citizen's first allegiance was due to his State; and that the attempt at coercion was as tyrannical as the refusal by Great Britain of independence to the American colonies. And, apart from all political theories, there instantly loomed on the horizon the armies of the North, bearing down with fire and sword on the people of the Southern States. The instinct of self-defense, and the irresistible sympathy of neighborhood
and community, prompted to resistance. Beyond doubt, the typical Southern volunteer could say in all sincerity, as one of them has expressed it: "With me is right, before me is duty, behind me is home."
So natural and profound was the motive on each side, when the war began. Wholly different from the moral responsibility of those who initiated Secession, is the case of those who afterward fought for what to each side was the cause of home and country. But, driven though both parties felt themselves to war, none the less terrible was the war in itself. There are difficulties from which the only escape is through disaster. John Morley writes: “It is one of the commonest of all cheap misjudgments in human affairs, to start by assuming that there is always some good way out of a bad case. Alas for us all, this is not so. Situations arise, alike for individuals, for parties, and for States, from which no good way out exists, but only choice between bad way out and worse.” For the American people, in the situation into which by sins of commission and omission they had been brought, the only way out was one of the worst ways that human feet can travel.
It does not belong to this work to give a history of the Civil War. But a truthful history might be written in a very different vein from the accepted and popular narratives. These for the most part describe the conflict in terms resembling partly a game of chess and partly a football match. We read of grand strategic combinations, of masterly plans of attack and admirable counter-strokes of defense. On the battlefield we hear of gallant charges, superb rushes of cavalry, indomitable resistance. Our military historians largely give us the impression of man in battle as in the exercise of his highest powers, and war as something glorious in the experience and heart-thrilling in the contemplation.
But a succinct account of the whole business would be to say that for four years the flower of the country's population were engaged in killing each other. All other industries were overshadowed by the occupation of human slaughter. Shop and farm, church and college, school and home, all were subsidiary to the battlefield.
The battlefield itself is not easily conceived by the civilian, even with the aid of poets and story-tellers from Homer to Kipling. The reader, who has perhaps never seen a shot fired in anger, may have chanced to witness a man struck down in the street by a falling beam or trampled by a runaway horse. Or, as a better illustration, he may remember in his own case some hour of sudden and extreme suffering,-a hand caught by a falling window, a foot drenched by scalding water. Intensify that experience, extend it through days, for the home couch and the nursing of mother or wife put the bare ground and the onrush of hostile men, -and
you have the nucleus, the constituent atom, of a battle. Multiply it by hundreds or thousands; give to each sufferer the background of waiting parents, wife, children, at home; give to a part death, swift or agonizing; to another part lifelong infirmity or irritation,-and you begin to get the reality of war.
It was Wellington who said that the worst sight on earth, next to the field of defeat, was the field of victory. It was Lee who wrote from Mexico to his son: “ You have no idea what a horrible sight a battle-field is.” And he said that the strongest memory left from his first battle was the plaintive tone of a little Mexican girl whom he found leaning over a wounded drummer-boy.
Men not only witness such carnage but inflict it, in the excitement of battle, because animated by feelings of which only a part can rightly be called heroic. Honor indeed is due to the subordination of personal fear to the sense of
duty and comradeship,-yes, high honor; and the appeal of the soldier to the imagination, as a type of self-sacrifice and nobility, has its element of truth. But the ordinary courage of the battle-field is largely an excitement halfanimal, half-contagious, running often into savagery and insensate fury. In that situation the highest and lowest elements in man come into play. For the most part only the highest is portrayed for us by the historians and romancers, —they keep the wild beast and the devil out of sight. Only in these later days, when mankind begins to scrutinize its boasted glories more closely, do Tolstoi in literature and Verestchagin in art give us glimpses of the grim reality.
An industry which has murder for its main output will have some by-products to match. In the armies of both sides the human stuff was of mixed character and motive. Some enlisted from pure patriotism,—for Union, State, or Confederacy; some from thirst of adventure; others for ambition; others for the bounty or under compulsion of the conscription officer; many from the mere contagious excitement. Army life always brings to many of its participants a great demoralization. Take away the restriction of public opinion in a well-ordered community, take from men the society of good women, and there will be a tendency to barbarism. A civilized army has indeed a code and public opinion of its own, which counts for some sterling qualities, but it is lax and ineffective for much that goes to complete manhood. Just as the war left a host of maimed and crippled, so it left a multitude of moral cripples. At the reunion, around the “camp fire," with the reminiscences of stirring times and the renewal of good comradeship runs a vein of comment which the newspapers do not relate.
What's become of A.?” “Drank himself to death.” “And where is X.?” “Never got back the character he